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INSIDER: Hero drivers replaced by robots in 30 years

Date: 09 June 2008

The Insider is a fleet manager with years of invaluable experience

Driverless cars the norm by 2038? After a spate of costly prangs on his fleet, Insider is dreaming of the day.

I've decided to leave the fuming about fuel prices and retrospective taxes to others this time. Following a spate of prangs and bangs in our fleet, my financial burdens these days are imposed less by the Government and more by my drivers.

I'm not sure the risk people can solve this one; it's a more a job for pest control.

I'd love to get rid of drivers. Not employees, not cars, but drivers. My fairytale is fuelled partly by a report written by a dubious-sounding body called the Future Laboratory, who concluded that driverless cars will be the norm by 2038. Despite their patently silly name and the fact the report was sponsored by Sure for Men (who are presumably feeling pretty smug that men will still be perspiring in 2038), its conclusions did strike a chord with me.

Leaving aside for the moment the obvious benefits to a business car manager of a self-driving fleet, I'm convinced the driverless car would be a lot closer if the art of driving wasn't quite so revered. I can't imagine the mangle had much life following the introduction of the washing machine, despite the sad loss of all those mangling skills.

My drivers absolutely love driving; they see it both as downtime and an essential work duty. I'm convinced they're proud of the way they powered their Audi through the mess of the M42, avoiding the bottlenecks, making an inspired series of lane-changes, deploying the sport button. I doubt they make work decisions as confidently (although the wrong to right ratio is probably very similar).

However, power is already devolving away from them. Their wipers are deciding when to wipe, their satnavs are showing the canniest way to avoid M42 traffic and their braking is being cadenced for them. Production cars can self-park and identify white lines, and we know it's pretty easy for a satellite to dictate speed limits.

I realise I'm making a huge imaginative leap over the morass of legislation, co-operation and initial destruction between now and then, but oh how lovely it looks the other side. Drivers become employees and do some proper work in their mobile offices. Meetings are held, reports downloaded and restorative naps taken while Oxfordshire zips by. Cars drive themselves to be serviced, scrupulously avoiding obstacles. But best of all, hero drivers are eliminated. GM's research and development boss is quoted in this report saying they'll have robot cars on the road by 2018. In my current mood, I'm tempted to get my order in now.